Hydration as a limiting factor in lactation

Am J Hum Biol. 1998;10(2):151-161. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6300(1998)10:2<151::AID-AJHB2>3.0.CO;2-O.


A relatively untapped area of research concerning lactation and hydration exists for bioanthropologists interested in the ecology of breastfeeding. This review details current limited knowledge on the topic with recommendations about relevant research questions for human biologists. On average, lactating mothers produce >750 ml/day milk for their infants. Breastfeeding thus promotes a powerful thirst stimulus in the lactating mother, resulting in a 12-16% increase in fluid intake among Western women. Thirst during lactation may be mediated by oxytocin release, since this hormone is structurally similar to the antidiuretic hormone, vasopressin. Prolactin also may be involved. A few studies among Western women concluded that moderate dehydration does not affect milk production, but it is not known how lactating women in hot and/or dry climates respond to chronically limited water supplies. Lactating women in such environments may use both physiological and behavioral adaptations to conserve fluid requirements, such as reducing activities during breastfeeding and carrying extra fluid supplies while travelling. Given the limited state of knowledge on lactation and hydration, future field studies should incorporate research to determine the importance of adequate fluids in maintaining milk production and the health of both mothers and infants. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 10:151-161, 1998. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.